Content isn’t king, it’s a game of thrones

Ever since Bill Gates coined the term 'content is king' way back in 1996, marketers have been using it as a catch-all excuse to publish reams of content that nobody watches. As Atomic 212°'s head of content Kellie Holt explains, content isn't a monarchy.

Remember when we used to read stories in magazines, watch shows on the TV and listen to music on our iPods or the radio? These days, we’ve now rolled all that – and much more – up under a single banner, and we now consume ‘content’. But every time I hear the words ‘content is king’ used today as a newly coined phrase, I shudder. Because it’s 2017.

The content revolution kicked in some time in the last decade, although it was all the way back in 1996 that Bill Gates wrote his groundbreaking essay ‘content is king’. His prediction was this: “Content is where I expect much of the real money will be made on the internet, just as it was in broadcasting.”

The self-made richest man on the planet was pretty much bang on. So was David Bowie.

In 1999, no one could really predict how the internet would alter not only content, but the very nature of how we interact with each other. In a BBC interview at the time, Bowie said on the future of the internet: “It’s an alien life form. Is there life on Mars? Yes, it just landed here … I think we are on the cusp of something exhilarating and terrifying.”

God I miss him. Bowie also went on to say “the actual context and the state of content is going to be so different to anything we can really envision at the moment, where the interplay between the user and the provider will be so in simpatico. It’s going to crush our ideas of what mediums are all about.”

Unfortunately, those three little words, ‘content is king’, have become something of a universal fix for so many marketing issues: create content, and lots of it, and you’ll be fine. Guess what? You won’t.

The thing with content – just as it was with stories, shows and music before it – is that people don’t want half-arsed, semi-thought-out garbage. They demand much more now and will judge you accordingly.

Audiences remain committed to quality content. And even in a market where you can get a lot of content for free, we’ve seen people are still willing to fork over their hard-earned cash for content they actually want.

Game of content

It was a ratings-shattering season for Game of Thrones, not only for the various machinations and revelations that came to fruition –don’t worry, there’ll be no spoilers here if you’re late to the game – but purely from an audience point of view.

The first episode of season seven pulled in an audience of 820,000 viewers in Australia which was a new record for subscription TV in this country, topping the season six premiere by 13%.

That particular record didn’t stand for long however, with the finale of season seven going on to smash that number. Over 887,000 Aussies watched ‘The Dragon and the Wolf’ before their mates took to social media and ruined it for them.

Australians were hardly alone in their devoted following of the goings-on in Westeros, with Nielsen reporting the series finale attracted an audience of 12.1 million live viewers – again, this was up on last year’s concluding episode.

But what really beefed up those numbers was on-demand viewing (including encore and the HBO Now and HBO Go Apps). The 12.1 million viewers quickly became 16.5 million.

HBO have said that this season, after most devoted fans have had a chance to tune in across their chosen platform, will average over 30 million viewers.

So, ready for this shocker? People love brilliantly scripted entertainment with incredible sets, talented (and gorgeous) actors bringing to life unforgettable characters, shot in stunning locations across the world. Forget the Kardashians and Housewives (ok, not always), but who wants reality when you can get content of this quality?

Cost doesn’t equate quality

When it comes to brands and marketing execs, the not-so-hidden messages are this. Firstly, when it comes to content, quality is far more important than quantity. Secondly, create something of value to your audience that will keep them coming back to you for more.

That said, don’t make the mistake of thinking that quality and production cost are the same thing. While the eight-figure budgets David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have been known to play around with have paid off well for them, similar coin was dropped per episode of ambitious TV show Terra Nova, which was canned after one very expensive season.

And just as a fat budget is no guarantee of success, a shoestring does not doom your project to failure. Get creative!

That said, for every ‘Charlie bit my finger’ video on YouTube, there are hundreds of thousands of clips of kids that are the cutest thing their family ever saw, yet are mind-numbingly boring for every other person with an ISP.

So, trying to create a viral hit is a difficult proposition. Don’t bother. What is far easier is sticking to what you know and what you can offer your audience – great content is about knowing who you are and what you stand for; it’s about finding the right angle, storytelling, having an opinion, creation, distribution, understanding your audience and delivering something of high value.

Your content needs to offer value to your audience. Having the budget to create content with great production values is nice. But ultimately more people watched ‘An Inconvenient Truth’, which is just a glorified PowerPoint presentation, than went to see ‘Battleship’, which cost more than $200 million to produce. The former contained worthwhile content, while the latter was hot garbage.

The value exchange

Ultimately, expecting people to consume your content is the same as expecting them to buy your products or services. Except, generally speaking, instead of them parting ways with their money, they’re giving you their time and attention.

Think about content as a transaction. Simply ask: are you offering value? Am I offering entertainment, information or something educational? And does this value exchange carry an authentic connection to both my brand and my audience? If the answer is no, you can’t really expect people to care about you or what you’re putting out there.

Bill Gates was right. Content turned out to be king. But expecting to be on top merely because you’re creating content is like expecting to be monarch of a country solely because you’ve put your hat in the ring.

If there is one thing we’ve learnt from HBO’s hit show, it’s that being king is no longer enough to survive. But gaining the love of your people – by connecting with them, and providing them with something they want– is.

Kellie Holt is head of content at Atomic 212°.


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